Pembroke – The Renfrew County Virtual Triage Assessment Centre (RCVTAC) has become an essential and integral part of health care for many county residents and the role two individuals played in its creation, as well as the county’s COVID pandemic response, was recognized with a commendation at Renfrew County Council.

Dr. Robert Cushman, the former acting medical officer of health for the Renfrew County and District Health Unit (RCDHU) and Leah Levesque, the president and executive director of the Arnprior Family Health Team, were both presented with the Chief’s Commendation and plaque by Renfrew County Director of Emergency Services Mike Nolan last Wednesday morning.

“This is really an award we created over 10 years ago for exemplary service,” he explained. “For going above and beyond and being a leader in our community.”

Both were instrumental in health guidance and policy and establishing VTAC, he said.

“Not only the work effort they put in but truly their passion for our community and their commitment to partnership and collaboration across the health sector,” he said.

The award has been presented to paramedics, various individuals and staff throughout the last decade, but it is not presented on a frequent basis. Chief Nolan said the choice to present the awards to these two individuals recognizes the “incredible contribution” they made during the COVID-19 pandemic to the health and well-being of the county residents and the important role they played in the creation of RCVTAC.

“VTAC has a very significant role to play in supporting our hospital partners,” the chief noted.

The services are sensitive to both the residents and hospital partners and he said Ms. Levesque especially kept this in sight throughout the process.

The Arnprior Family Health Team stepped up to play an administrative role in the formation of VTAC, which has since been granted ongoing provincial funding, he said. VTAC was created as a way for triage during the early stages of the COVID pandemic, which began in March 2020 in the county. It has since evolved as a way for people without access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner to receive primary health care.

“COVID, as you all know, has been an extremely challenging time in health care,” Ms. Levesque noted. “One of the greatest rewards is being able to partner with Renfrew County in VTAC,” she added.

The creation of VTAC has been very important to the area and is a new way of looking at things, she added.

“For the future this is the most positive thing I have seen in health care in a long, long time,” she said. “Out of crisis comes innovation.”

She recognized Chief Nolan for his lead in providing innovation and a different way of looking at things, as well as the County of Renfrew.

A Group Effort

Dr. Cushman, who was the face and voice of the COVID response in the county for many people, acknowledged he was not even supposed to be the acting medical officer of health in 2020. He took on the role several years before with the intention it would only be for a short time.

“I think when I came on, it was supposed to be four months,” he joked. “I don’t know if it was five or six years.”

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic was very much a group effort, he said.

“When Mike asks you to help out it is never ending but makes such a contribution,” he said.

As well, he gave Chief Nolan credit for innovation and continually thinking outside the box to come up with the idea of VTAC.

“This man has such vision,” he said.

As well, Dr. Cushman expressed his gratitude to county residents for how they dealt with the pandemic.
“I was very proud of Renfrew County during COVID,” he said.

The vaccination rates were very high and continue to be so.

“There is a lot to be proud of and I thank everyone for that,” he said.
As well, when people chose to disagree with his opinions, they did so respectfully, he said.

“Even my detractors, they were respectful,” he said.

This was not the case in many other jurisdictions, so he was grateful for the civility evidenced in the county.

“So, hats off. This is a salute to Renfrew County,” Dr. Cushman said.

Having VTAC in the county as an ongoing resource is very important, the doctor added.

“VTAC is terrific,” he said. “What you see here is an example of coming together and sharing the future.”

Health care needs to have people coming together and VTAC has done this, he said.

“It is coming together and breaking down silos.”

Having this type of cooperation will serve the residents of the county well and he noted he was very pleased to accept the award.

“I really think Renfrew County has a bright future with things like VTAC,” he said.

In his final words of advice, he urged county residents and health professionals to keep working hard.

“Keep your eye on the ball and keep working,” he said. “By doing so you will improve the health and quality of life of those in Renfrew County.”

Warden Peter Emon said Renfrew County has always an environment of sharing on the front lines and this has been positive to see. He said recognizing Dr. Cushman and Ms. Levesque for the innovative roles they played during the pandemic and with the creation of VTAC was important.

“This recognized the job had to get done,” he said.

With a sparsely populated county, VTAC as a virtual centre made sense, the warden said.

“Rob and Leah recognized that,” he said.

“Sometimes leading in the community means being part of a time,” he said, referring to the pandemic.

VTAC was established as a community service model by the community.

“It is not traditional bricks and mortar and not a traditional service model,” he said. “This is quite ground-breaking.”

The award was very deserved by both individuals, Warden Emon said.

“We need to stress how important you were in developing this model of treatment,” he said.

“Thank you for your help in saving our community,” he concluded.

Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue, who chairs the Health Committee and has been a member of the Board of Health, recognized both for their contribution. He noted he arrived on the county scene when Dr. Cushman did.

“I was appointed to the health unit board in 2015 when the last non-acting medical officer of health left,” he said.